Disadvantaged young people gain cybersecurity know how

This article appeared on the People & Young People Now website on the 28th November 2023.

The Regional Cyber Crime Unit Prevent Team for West Midlands Region delivers offender intervention and management through a structured programme called Cyber Choices – a National initiative lead by the National Crime Agency.

An image of Adrian Bacon and other participants standing in front of CyberHub Trust signage at Birminghamn Metropolitan College

We re-focus people with cyber talent to use their skills in an ethical, lawful way to support cyber industry and reduce future offending.

Often, we meet people with fantastic cyber ability but who have a lack of legal knowledge and can easily tip into unlawful territory. We support, mentor and train these individuals, while providing them with an understanding of the law. We have successfully diverted numerous candidates who were on the cusp of criminality to seek successful careers in the cyber industry.

This support is usually exclusive to cybercrime offenders. Sadly, there are a lack of supported pathways for non-cyber offenders to also seek intervention, development and careers within the cyber and digital space. To help address this, funding was obtained from the Home Office to lead a pilot apprenticeship scheme for young people at risk of being involved in violent crime.

By delivering the right training and support, we were confident that we could help these young people develop the skills, behaviours and aspiration needed to achieve fulfilling careers and, crucially, keep them on the right side of the law.

With the support of The CyberHub Trust and Birmingham Metropolitan College, we developed a pilot training programme to support these individuals. This was an entry-level course, providing basic IT and cybersecurity knowledge and skills, which would help the young people to secure employment, progress onto further education or even start their own business.

The pilot was designed and delivered by BIT Training. It was delivered online and face-to-face over a 12-week-period. In addition, Phoenix Sports and Media Group engaged with the young people to help develop their communication, social and interpersonal skills within a business environment – which are all essential for employment and successful progression.

The selected candidates were provided with laptops and a personal tutor, who supported them throughout. They were also paired with a mentor – someone from a similar background who also had a challenging start in life but were now successful role models.

Purpose and opportunity

This pilot project tested more progressive ideas about helping individuals with their life choices giving them aim, purpose and opportunity. At the same time, it recognises the skills and resource deficit in the cyber industry and the need to source talent from alternative areas. Developing non-cyber talent to seek cyber careers is of huge value on multiple fronts.

Our first cohort of young people have now achieved their accreditation and we will be helping them to take the next steps in their education, careers, or their entrepreneurial ventures. One pilot participant has now enrolled on a digital technology and cyber security course at Birmingham Metropolitan College.

We will be recommending similar support programmes across our offender management teams in different regions.

This was clearly a pioneering initiative, albeit initially small scale, but it is a good example of how we must start thinking more progressively about how to support disadvantaged young people.

By Detective Constable Adrian Bacon
Regional Cyber Crime Unit, West Midlands Region